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The country’s freight and passenger railways are operating with automatic braking system technology, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
The technology, known as positive train control, or PTC, is operational across the 57,536 railroad route miles as required by federal law, the FRA noted Dec. 29. Operators include Class I railroads, as well as Amtrak and commuter railroads. Railroad stakeholders had until Dec. 31 to fully install the automatic braking systems.
For the first time ever, positive train control (PTC) has been implemented on all 57,536 required freight and passenger railroad route miles. A tremendous accomplishment that reflects @USDOT’s top priorities – safety, innovation, and infrastructure! https://t.co/PFmpISm1z8— Sec. Elaine Chao (@SecElaineChao) December 29, 2020
“Achieving 100% PTC implementation is a tremendous accomplishment and reflects the department’s top priorities — safety, innovation and infrastructure,” said Elaine Chao, the former Transportation Secretary who helped lead USDOT’s efforts to ensure access for PTC.
“On behalf of extraordinary professionals at FRA and myself, I congratulate the railroads, particularly their frontline workers, as well as PTC system suppliers and vendors on this transformative accomplishment,” added FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. “Furthermore, many industry associations … have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to supporting this unprecedented undertaking.”
Organizations Batory cited were:
- Association of American Railroads
- American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
- American Public Transportation Association
- Commuter Rail Coalition
- National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association
- Railway Supply Institute
- Railway Systems Suppliers
Class I freight railroads include Norfolk Southern combined railroad subsidiaries, BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern Railway, Soo Line Railroad, Grand Trunk Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad. Railroads also reported achieving interoperability on PTC-governed lines.
“America’s freight railroads continue to strive towards an accident-free future through a tireless commitment to addressing the major causes of accidents — track, equipment and human error. Continued safety improvement in the years ahead, however, will require new and different solutions,” according to a statement from the Association of American Railroads. “Technology is one of those solutions. Widespread deployment of new technologies, like positive train control, designed to address human error, will open the door to an exciting new era of safety and efficiency improvement for U.S. freight railroads.”
AAR CEO Ian Jefferies on railroads meeting the PTC requirements: "America’s railroads have reached an important milestone this year that will enhance safety and springboard innovation long into the future." https://t.co/JoTdHf3XDE— AAR (@AAR_FreightRail) December 29, 2020
To facilitate PTC installment, USDOT provided more than $3.4 billion in grants and loans to railroads. The technology is designed to assist with the prevention of train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments and movement of trains through a switch in the wrong position, per USDOT. Additionally, PTC is designed to help prevent train incursions into established work zones.
The independent National Transportation Safety Board consistently highlighted a need for implementing PTC in its “Most Wanted List” of priorities for policymakers. To emphasize the point, NTSB has noted recent railroad crashes nationwide.
On Capitol Hill, the top transportation policymaker in the House of Representatives welcomed FRA’s announcement.
“For years, I have worked diligently with my colleagues to ensure that railroads follow through on implementing this lifesaving technology and be held accountable if they fail to do so in a reasonable timeframe,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said last month. “Congress held firm on the revised compliance date, and today’s certification marks an important achievement for railroads in installing this lifesaving technology before the end-of-year deadline.”
DeFazio continued, “While there is always room for safety improvements and more work lies ahead, completion of PTC installation ushers in a new chapter in railroading safety. And rest assured, our committee will continue working to ensure that tragedies like those in North Philadelphia, Graniteville, S.C., DuPont, Wash., Chatsworth, Calif., and so many more never happen again.”
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